ARLINGTON, Texas — After leading Ohio State to a win against Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship, Ezekiel Elliott named off a few Buckeye greats that came before him.
The sophomore running back praised the legacy of fellow running backs Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Beanie Wells, but Elliott’s performance gave him something those three never had: a national title.
“Just being able to accomplish something that all of them weren’t able to accomplish, it means the world to me, and I’m happy that I was able to carry on that lineage this season,” Elliott said.
In order to get the spark the No. 4 Buckeyes needed to pick up their 42-20 win against the No. 2 Ducks, Elliott piled up 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries — all career highs. And he did it to cap a run of three postseason games in which he rushed for at least 220 yards.
In total, Elliott had 696 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in postseason wins against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the title game.
But as the individual accolades continue to pile up — he was the Offensive Player of the Game in both the Sugar Bowl and the playoff final — Elliott saved credit for the players leading the way around him.
“Just getting the MVP, I credit that to my big boys up front, actually everybody on the offense,” he said. “Everybody does their job, and nothing would be possible without that team effort.”
While coach Urban Meyer saved some credit for the Buckeye offensive line as well, it took him just two words to describe his feature running back — “A monster.”
He said Elliott is a humble player, but he stressed that Elliott doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
“He’s the most underrated back in America,” Meyer said. “He’s one of the best post-contact yard guys I’ve ever been around, and on top of that he’s a great human being.”
Beyond his off-field attributes and single-game performances, Elliott peppered his name in the single-season OSU record books, despite not starting any games as a freshman last year. Elliott’s 1,878 yards on the ground this season are good for second-most in program history, while his four touchdowns against Oregon were a postseason-game OSU record.
Looking back to the beginning of the season, OSU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said he knew what kind of player Elliott could be, as long as the pieces came together around him.
“We knew he was a special talent last year as a freshman, and all we needed was the offensive line a little bit to grow up a little bit and improve,” Herman said. “And they did that, and you saw the fruits of that in his performances.”
Herman and Meyer both said they saw the type of player Elliott was last season, but the St. Louis, Mo., native had just 30 carries for 262 yards and two touchdowns last season. Just a year later, he totaled 273 attempts for those 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also adding 28 receptions for 220 yards through the air.
And after the breakout season, Elliott could find himself in the company of players like Griffin and George on another stage, this time as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
George won the award in 1995 and Griffin won it in 1974 and 1975 to become the only two-time recipient, but Elliott has already won it in his own right — even if it came in the virtual world.
“It’s something you dream about as a kid when you’re playing ‘NCAA Football’ and you create your little player, and he wins the Heisman,” Elliott said. “Just thinking that I’m going to have the opportunity next year to compete for the Heisman, just it means everything.”
But even with the trophy in mind, Elliott stressed the potential to contend won’t change his attitude going forward.
“I’m not going to change, I’m going to keep grinding,” he said. “I’m going to do all I can to win it.”